QCT Conversations: Mike Omoniyi, The Common Sense Network
A message from Mike in response to CV-19:
My name is Mike Omoniyi and I’m the Editor-In-Chief of The Common Sense Network. We are a news network that creates online and offline spaces for people who disagree and who have different ideological perspectives to come together and learn from each other. We are based in Manchester, however we have an active and growing online presence. We also have a global reach and a global audience.
COVID-19 has put pressure on a lot of our commercial partners and partnerships. It has been difficult because we had planned many events and large scale partnerships planned for the year which have been put under threat. However, now more than ever, we can also see the need for news outlets that tell the truth and don't use fear baiting for clicks. We are modelling what news outlets ought to be doing at this time. Telling the truth and serving the public good. We have had increased interest in our network and we are trying to serve our audience even with reduced capacity.
Right now, my advice would be to be adaptable. I was always told ‘business was rocky’, however, in the last few weeks, this statement has been clearer than ever before. A business is a growing organism and so it must evolve, grow and adapt. Business that don’t adapt will lose out. I would advise young leaders to be sharp at this time and stay on top of things.
We would love new followers and partners. You can find us online at The Common Sense Network or @tcsnetwork online! We are always looking to welcome new people into our family.
Enjoy my 'QCT Conversations' below!
Earlier this year, QCT met with changemaker Mike Omoniyi, founder of The Common Sense Network - a publication that create spaces online and offline for those who don’t see eye to eye to engage critically, and encourage young people to leave their 'echo chambers'.
In our chat, Mike explained how he identified a need for The Common Sense Netowrk, how he managed to get things off the ground, and how he keeps going when things get tough. Check out the video below, or scroll down to read our Q&A!
Hi Mike! Thanks for speaking with us today! Why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Mike Omoniyi: My name is Mike Omoniyi, and I’m the editor and chief of The Common Sense Network. We create spaces online and offline for people who disagree, who don’t see eye to eye, to come together and find common sense.
What motivated you to set up The Common Sense Network?
MO: Well, it’s hard to think of the moment I wanted to start, or what sparked that idea - it was a number of different sparks. One was doing my Master’s research; I was researching about polarisation and political division and thinking about how we heal this.
I was also angry about the mainstream media and representation; I was angry about ordinary people and the fact they had no stake in how their stories were being told. So, all those different things came together and provided the starting energy for the The Common Sense Network.
What were your first steps to getting things off the ground?
MO: To get The Common Sense Network off the ground, I had to find people who were also angry! So the first step was to rally together lots of angry people who all came to the party for different reasons; some were angry about race and how the mainstream media treated race, some were angry about media ownership, some about extremism… we all came together and launched a Kickstarter campaign, and we were successful - we raised over £50k in 50 days, and that got us off the ground.
What were the initial challenges that you had to overcome?
MO: In terms of challenges and things that made me question whether this was going to be a success – there were lots and lots of different things! I mean, during the fundraiser as you can imagine – we’ve got 50 days to raise £50,000 – I didn’t know anyone who could give me that amount of money, so I had to scratch my chin and think really, really hard; who could give me this money? Would we raise it? If we didn’t raise it would I have failed? I turned down a pretty cool role to do this, so there were lots of sleepless nights! But we banded together, we got the support of about 500 people and in the end, we were okay.
There was another time when I thought ‘okay cool, we’ve got lots of energy, lots of passion, but how do we turn this into an organisation?’. And that’s when mentors were very helpful. They said: “Okay mike, an angry group of 200 people aren’t going to be an organisation that can be sustained”, so we had to streamline things, write constitutions - really build up our structure. Those were the two crucial moments we could have gone left or right, and luckily through the help of some people we were able to stay standing.
What has been your proudest moment so far?
MO: My proudest moment to date…! It’s hard, because there has been so many. Of course, there have been some business ones and some really cool moments; for instance, we were published in a Key Stage 3 textbook – I used to go to bed reading those textbooks, so that was really cool.
But I think for me, one of the proudest moments was when we had a debate in Hull (UK). We had opposites together; we had a left-wing person and a right-wing person, and they were debating and going back and forth. And at the end of the debate (it was a pretty tense debate!), one of the lads in the crowd went to one of the speakers in a private moment (I was eavesdropping of course!), and he said to her: “I’m so sorry about what I said during the debate, I never understood your perspective before - but I get it now and I’m really, really sorry”. And she was like: “It’s fine, I’m happy you’ve learnt”, and I thought 'woah'! Imagine if at the dispatch box you saw that – you saw the leader of the opposition apologising to the Prime Minster for getting things wrong – or you just saw a neutral space where people who disagree could come together and actually just learn from each other. That, for me, was amazing, because that’s why we exist – to create moments like that.
How do you deal with failure, or things not going to plan?
MO: Right, me and failure, we have a very interesting relationship! I think I have amnesia, because I don’t remember stuff very often! When things don’t work, I’m like ‘let’s keep moving, let’s keep moving forward’.
I think for me, one of the major ways I’ve learnt to deal with failure is to be married to the outcome not the process, which means when things don’t go right for me I just take that as ‘okay cool, the market is showing us this isn’t the right way to go’... or perhaps we put a video out and it gets 10 views even though we spent weeks on it – all those speed bumps don’t matter as much as the actual goal. And what’s the goal? To create moments where people who don’t see eye to eye can come together and learn from each other – that’s the goal. And so, on our route there, we’re going to meet lots of speed bumps; but for me it’s about not taking things too personally and learning that businesses or projects or charities are living organisms. Very rarely is it going to end up the way you imagined when you started, but as long as you are married to the outcome and not the process, you end up getting there - and sometimes you get to a place where you didn’t think you wanted to, and it’s actually a better place to be.
What are your future goals for The Common Sense Network?
MO: As per the goals I have for The Common Sense Network, the big goal is to take the 60+ people who have helped keep the company going and who have helped us achieve considerable social impact, take them over the line and have them come on as full time staff. In the social enterprise space it’s very easy to make a lot of noise and to get a lot of attention, but it’s quite hard to secure funding and to be able to turn things from ideas and projects into actual self-governing, self-existing projects or companies. So, our big goal is to turn our social clout and all that interest into full time staff.
And two is to grow. A lot of people I speak to about this project, they say ‘oh my gosh, I wish I know about this earlier,’ or ‘I was having a chat to my friend the other day about this’. So, we want to bring this idea, this revolution to everybody. We want to get people understanding that it’s okay to change their minds, that it’s okay to have friends who disagree with you, it’s okay to consume a heterogeneous set of information rather than homogenous one. Really, the goal is to spread this thing like wildfire.
What do you hope the world will be like in the future?
MO: In terms of my hopes for the world in the future, I just wish the world would be more compassionate. I really do wish that we recognise that some of the biggest problems we face cannot be solved in political enclaves or racial enclaves; we’ve got to step outside what we think we know and embrace what we don’t understand.
So, I hope the world will look a bit better than it does now, with more people reaching out, more people trying to understand what they don’t understand and just be a really messy mix of lots of different types of people. Diversity is what I hope for.
What does youth leadership mean to you, and why is it so important?
MO: One of my biggest passions is young people being listened to. I’ve been campaigning and working since I was 13; from volunteering in my local youth council to doing all sorts of stuff. I think one of the greatest things about youth is (and this might sound like an insult but it’s actually a really big compliment) that we typically have this simplicity at which we look at things. It can be a breath of fresh air to most conversations that happen around decision-making tables, where people are so embedded in the nuance and the debate that they lack the crucial vision to solve the problem. Young people bring an energy to a problem or an issue, and a clarity of thought – such that it can teach those older, who are in positions to make change, a lot of different things.
And if we’re quite honest’; we’re talking about a world we’re going to inherit; this is the world we’re going to live in in the future, so I think it matters that we have a say in the kind of world we want to live in.
What are your top three tips to young leaders just starting out?
MO: Top three tips for young people who’ve got a great idea, a brilliant idea, but don’t know how to turn it into a reality:
1: You’ve got to write it down. I know it sounds like ‘well duh’, but you do, because things sound amazing in your head. When I thought about The Common Sense Network, I thought I’d be like Oprah walking around and just interviewing people, then I wrote it down and I was like okay.
2: Build a team. You’ve got to find people who are like you, who agree with you – you’ve got to have a team. It’s so important to know when to ask for help and to build a team of people. So, ask friends and family – who wants to join me on this? Who cares about this as much as I care? Because whilst you’ve got one perspective, other people bring that rich experience of different perspectives.
3. Get started. Now once you’ve written it down, you’ve got a team going, you then have to (as I’ve said before) be married to the outcome not the process. Do not obsess over everything being perfect and having the perfect camera etc... you’ve just got to get started. And be very open to change because that will almost certainly happen. Be married to the outcome not the change.
Article published: 15th April 2020
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